Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview, 50-in-50: Frederik Gauthier

0
TORONTO,ON - FEBRUARY 21: Frederik Gauthier #33 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates during the warm-up prior to playing against the Winnipeg Jets in an NHL game at Air Canada Centre on February 21, 2017 in London, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Jets 5-4 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Frederik Gauthier’s ascent to the NHL was destined to be an uphill battle from the moment he was drafted. When the Toronto Maple Leafs selected him in the first round of the 2013 NHL entry draft, his closest player comparable was listed as Colby Armstrong. Not a promising sign.

Gauthier is one of the more peculiar prospects in the Leafs system. To judge Gauthier’s development in association with his draft position would be fruitless. He was clearly never supposed to go that high. So, expecting him to produce as if he was would be doing him a disservice.

The best way to view Gauthier is as if he was a third round pick, projected to develop into a depth centre. Is it depressing that Leafs fans must view him this way? Yes. Is it heartbreaking to point out that highly touted defenseman Shea Theodore was picked by Anaheim just five spots after Gauthier? Absolutely.

Yet, we soldier on. Gauthier has shown fleeting signs of promise suggesting that he may earn an NHL job one day.

Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview, 50-in- 50: Frederik Gauthier

It’s been established that Gauthier was never expected to produce high offensive numbers. However, it is quite worrying as to just how low his production has been at the professional level. In the AHL last season, Gauthier was only able to muster a measly 13 points for the Marlies in 46 games. Even more troubling, only four of those 13 points were goals.

Despite his lack of production, there were significant bright spots in Gauthier’s game. His biggest weakness, by far, has always been his lack of foot speed. To remedy this, Gauthier has been seen working tirelessly with renowned Leafs skating coach Barb Underhill. The improvements, so far, have been visible.

Gauthier’s 2016-17 season was ultimately a “one step forward, two steps back” scenario for his development. He took a step forward by earning a promotion to the Leafs in December. Immediately, he was given the role of centring the team’s fourth line, taking over for the injured Ben Smith.

Again, Gauthier showed flashes of promise. He won 51.1% of his faceoffs and was even gifted with coveted time on the penalty kill. Surprisingly, he also demonstrated a sneakily wicked shot, something fans were unaware that he possessed.

Unfortunately, his season ended prematurely due to a broken leg suffered in the Calder Cup Playoffs. The injury has prevented Gauthier from improving his skating this summer and will likely keep him out for a large portion of the beginning of the Marlies season.

Analytically Speaking

While advanced stats aren’t readily available in the AHL, Gauthier’s NHL advanced numbers are far from impressive. Gauthier was a distinctly negative player in terms of driving possession. He finished his 21-game NHL stint sitting at an even strength Corsi percentage of 46.8%. That is not good.

Gauthier’s advanced numbers are painted in an increasingly disappointing light when considering just how blessed with puck luck he was. The Leafs PDO percentage when Gauthier was on the ice registered at a significantly high 104.5. Essentially, those numbers dictate that when Gauthier was on the ice, the Leafs were shooting and stopping pucks at an extremely above average rate. Even with luck on his side, Gauthier was still a negative possession player, unable to suppress shots and, in turn, being bailed out by
stellar goaltending.

One redeeming factor for these numbers is that Gauthier began an astounding 71.8% of his shifts in the defensive zone. Starting in the defensive zone limits a player’s ability to drive offence, as well as recoup possession.

Interestingly, it also reveals that Mike Babcock trusted Gauthier to such an extent that he tasked him with winning defensive zone draws. That is a promising vote of confidence from a coach who is notorious for placing significant importance on winning a face off in your own zone.

Profile (via EliteProspects)

Age: 22

Position: C

Height: 6’5”

Weight: 238 lbs

NHL Entry Draft: First Round, 21st Overall in 2013 by Toronto

Contract (via CapFriendly)

Gauthier is in an interesting position when it comes to his contract. Freddy the Goat was signed to a three-year entry level contract by the Toronto Maple Leafs following the 2013 draft. However, the contract slid to the 2015-16 season due to Gauthier’s extended development time in the QMJHL.

Gauthier’s entry level contract pays him an NHL salary of $832,500 that comes out at a cap hit of $863,333, taking up a measly 1.44% of the salary cap. In the AHL, Gauthier earns significantly less, pocketing only $70,000 per year. It is worth noting that even though he was a first round pick, Gauthier’s ELC includes no possibility of performance bonuses.

The Leafs will have a puzzling decision to make at the end of the 2017-18 season, as Gauthier is set to become a restricted free agent. With him expected to miss a significant portion of the season due to injury, will Gauthier be able to prove he is worthy of an extension, or even a qualifying offer? That is something that remains to be seen.

2017-18 Season

Gauthier’s injury in last year’s playoffs could not have come at a worse time. Not only was he
performing incredibly well, but the Marlies are absolutely loaded with offensive talent this season. It now remains to be seen whether there will be room for him when he returns.

Gauthier is expected to miss at least the first two months of the AHL season, gifting a new arrival with more than enough time to take his spot in the lineup. With Adam Brooks and Miro Aaltonen expected to play for the Marlies, centre spots are suddenly increasingly limited.

The caveat with Gauthier’s injury, unfortunately, is that it happened to his leg. His lack of speed was already the weakness holding him back from an NHL job. Players who suffer serious leg injuries (Dave Bolland comes to mind) risk never gaining back their complete speed. If Gauthier does indeed lose a step as a result of this injury, his days in the Leafs organization could be numbered.

On the flip side, if Gauthier returns from injury stronger than ever, he very well could earn an NHL job this season. Dominic Moore was signed by the Leafs to be their 4th line centre. If he falters or gets injured himself, Gauthier will likely be the first player to be called up as a direct replacement.

Gauthier’s ability to recover from his injury this season is crucial to his future as a Toronto Maple Leaf. At this time next year, he could either be entrenched on the Leafs fourth line, or out of the organization altogether.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images

LEAVE A REPLY